Oxbridge Summer Camps Abroad



OSCA Japan 2008


Karaoke, tea ceremony, sake, kimonos, shinkansen, manga, sushi... Whatever Japanese cliché you can think of, the volunteers at the Japan camp sang/saw/ate/ drank it in the summer of 2008. Japan’s distinct culture, so removed from our own, guarantees a challenging but immensely rewarding location for an OSCA Camp.


The week following our arrival was full of welcome parties, with the Japanese teachers in charge of the programmes we were to be teaching and with the local government. We were so surprised by the fact that everyone was so pleased to see us and knew our names! This would only mark the beginning of the hospitality and generosity that would follow on the part of the Japanese.


This is the third year the Japan camp has been run, and unlike the other OSCA camps, the Japan teachers are split up, usually into pairs and work in different schools. This offers great variety, as one week you may be teaching middle-aged house wives and the next, university students! Nearly all of the camps are based in Kobe, but two of us had the opportunity to experience small town life by teaching in the town of Toyooka, two and a half hours away. We found the Japanese students to be very studious- often they knew as much about English grammar as we did. The problem is that their education system does not encourage them to speak up in class, and as a result, many lack self-confidence in their English skills, and some claim not to be able to speak English at all. This meant that our work mainly consisted of giving them confidence in their spoken English, by organising fun activities; group presentations, speeches that the students wrote and performed themselves. We were surprised at the way that their confidence quickly increased, and they revealed themselves to be quite the characters: from aspiring hip-hop artists to accomplished manga artists. The progression that we saw was extremely rewarding.


We were based at the Kobe institute, which is owned by St Catherine’s College, Oxford. It was slightly surreal to be staying in a piece of Oxford transported to Japan, and even more surreal that to taxi drivers in Kobe it’s simply recognised as “okusufordo!” Perched up on the side of Mount Rokko, the institute has great views over Kobe, especially at night, and to our delight, a 24 hour internet room. However, for two of the four weeks, we each had the opportunity to stay with host families, which was a great way to experience Japan from the inside. It was here that our experience of Japanese generosity continued, the families taking us to restaurants to sample traditional Japanese cuisine and going on trips to the nearby sights. Although we only lived with them for two weeks, it was very emotional to leave them, and we still keep in contact.


Kobe is a great location for an OSCA camp. Its international character means that you’re never too far from an Irish pub or a French patisserie. It has a chilled out atmosphere but is still only half an hour from bustling Osaka. At the same time, it is very close to many of Japan’s most renowned historic sights, the towns of Himeji, and Nara as well as Himeji castle. At weekends we went to Kobe’s bars (of which there are many), whilst in its restaurants, we tried many different types of Japanese food, kaitenzushi (conveyor belt sushi bars) ramen, soba, tempura. We also discovered izakaya, Japanese pubs, which offer a great selection of food and drink. Some of us were lucky enough to be taken by our host families to eat the world famous Kobe beef. As Kobe is a port town it also has a beach, a hot spot for the young people and a great place to visit at weekends. We also developed a verging-on-dangerous addiction to Karaoke. You can rent out your own room for a certain amount of time and can get deals for unlimited drinks. We would always rent out an hour and inevitably end up staying for three!


Having finished the camps, the group travelled to Tokyo, for a pilot scheme of a two day cultural exchange with Chuo University. This involved a day of inter-cultural activities, discussing the differences between university life in Japan and the UK. On the second day, we were given a tour of Tokyo by the Chuo University students, which was an invaluable introduction to the immense city! The exchange was very successful and it is possible that next year, after teaching in Kobe, the teachers may undertake a week-long camp in Tokyo.


After the camp, many of us stayed in Tokyo for several days, sightseeing and shopping and visiting the world famous Tsukiji fish market. Some of us then went back to visit the friends we had made in Kobe, a few of us set out to explore the “Japan Alps,” and one of us even climbed Mount Fuji!


2008 Team: Laura Pangbourne, David Oppenheimer, Emma Lloyd-Jones, Catherine Frances Ainley, Olivia Cheung, Tom Cufflin and Polly Akhurst.


You can see some of the pictures taken by the Japan volunteers here.


You can find out more about one of the Japan 2008 volunteers here.

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